Joanita Wibowo


5 minutes with author Katherine Scholes

5 minutes with author Katherine Scholes

In 5 minutes with authorOver60 asks book writers about their literary habits and preferences. Next in this series is Katherine Scholes, a Tanzanian-born novelist based in Tasmania. She has sold more than two million books in Europe, with translated editions in Spanish, Dutch, Polish and Portuguese among others. Her novel The Blue Chameleon won a New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award and The Stone Angel was longlisted in the International Dublin Literary Awards. Her latest book The Beautiful Mother is out now.

Over60 talked with Scholes about Dostoyevsky, memoirs, and reading in bed.

Over60: What is your best writing tip?

Katherine Scholes: Write the story that only you can tell. Begin by looking at the palette of your life – family history, personal experiences and interests, the people and places you know. If I find something in my story research that connects with my own story, however slightly, I always take note of it.

My biggest rule is that all the main characters must change as a result of the things that will happen to them in the drama. I plan some of the changes in advance and others take me by surprise. I carefully keep track of them all as I work.

What book(s) are you reading right now?

I’m reading the new Marian Keyes novel Grown Ups. As always, she delivers humorously insightful pictures of family life, and tells a great story. Excellent escapism! Next, I’m going to revisit The Hospital by the River – the autobiography of one of my heroes, Dr Catherine Hamlin. She died recently at the age of 96, while still involved in running the fistula hospital she and her husband Reg established in Addis Ababa over sixty years ago. In the difficult times we are in, I want to read about people who are brave and compassionate.

What was the last book that made you cry?

To be honest, it was my own novel The Beautiful Mother. While it’s not ultimately a heart-breaking story – more one of wonder and hope – there is a section that made me cry not just when I first wrote it (that’s normal) but every single time I re-read it, right up to the proof-checking stage. My editors said they had the same experience. Intense emotional engagement is what I most want from a book, so the tears are good ones.

What book do you think more people should read?

Self-published memoirs. I find a wealth of amazing stories, characters and settings in these books and often use them in research. I’m well aware that the content would have been lost to the world if someone hadn’t gone to the effort and expense of publication. The books are easy to discover online or through libraries, but they often struggle to find the readership they deserve.

Paperback, e-book or audiobook?

Lots of people just love a good old-fashioned book, and I’m one of them. But every format has its advantages. Audiobooks are great for listening to while travelling and walking (even falling asleep). E-books offer easy, instant access – especially ideal in today’s strange world. They can also be a good way of reading long novels in bed. Some readers commented on the size and weight of my last novel Congo Dawn. They didn’t want the story to end, but they were getting sore wrists!

What do you think is the most challenging work you’ve ever read?

Wolf Hall stretched the boundaries of my background in English history. I still loved the book, but I knew I wasn’t grasping the full story. Before that, it was Crime and Punishment by the Russian author Fyodor Dostoyevsky, which I studied at school. I never thought I’d get through it, but the main character has lingered with me now for many decades.

What do you do when you’re not writing?

I try to move around, as I always spend far too long sitting at my desk. Every day I walk along the beach outside my house, with my dog Darcy (She’s a staffy-whippet cross, if you can picture that!). Usually my parents come along as well. They often share anecdotes from their lives spent in England, Wales, Cornwall, Tanzania and Tasmania – which makes the times extra precious.

Which author, dead or alive, would you most like to have dinner with?

Graham Greene. I’m inspired by his novels, especially the ones set in Africa like A Burnt-Out Case. I’ve got a treasured copy of In Search of a Character: Two African Journals, which is a publication of his research notebooks. I wish I could be as disciplined as he was. He wrote to a very strict daily schedule – however, at least it also involved a glass of wine, a nap and a good dinner.